What's happening with COS's theatre project? It depends on the building's actual condition

Mike Meyer
Mt. Shasta Area Newspapers

The process of tearing down a jalopy to build it back into a classic car can uncover headaches enough to confound the saltiest mechanic. Basically, new bolts don’t always fit old nuts. 

The same could be said for renovating a building, such as the College of the Siskiyous’ Kenneth W. Ford Theater, built in 1968. COS received an award from the state last September for the project.

College of the Siskiyous

Even before digging a pocket knife into an old wall or jack hammering a chunk of 53 year-old cement to eyeball actual conditions, initial assessments of the building’s architectural drawings are turning up questions about the structure’s condition. Architects are currently sifting through the architectural drawings, and weighing them against the state’s past and present building and safety codes. 

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The construction management team of Alma and Trover updated COS Board of Trustees on those paper assessments last week. The report was the second such update, and second apparent nudge that trustees might need to consider a different project than the one first envisioned. 

Doug Graham of Alma and Trover said that in pouring over the original drawings, architects uncovered “lots of problems.” 

Reporting via Zoom, Graham said neither the theater stage’s proscenium wall nor the stage’s back wall were designed according to 1968 building codes. 

If the two walls were not designed in line with building codes, could they have been built according to code. 

“It is currently not known,” Graham said the board. 

He also reported that the back wall and the foundation had to be replaced, and that fire safety upgrades would be required, including a sprinkler system in the audience and lobby areas, and both an exhaust system and an addressable fire system for the entire building.

Graham assured trustees that, if the building is renovated, it would be compliant with 2022 state codes – “as if it’s a brand new building. 

“But this would mean that everything down to the walls would be demolished,” Graham said. 

Fifty-plus years of California earthquakes, fires, floods and ever-advancing technology have resulted in rewritten state building and safety codes over time. Those changes plus normal wear and tear of building materials make the theater renovation difficult.

“To go into an existing building … rip up floors, build new walls, pour new footings ... it’s a difficult and complex process,” Nick Trover explained to the board.

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As of last September, the college was to receive $27 million from the state, an amount expected to cover 100% of the project cost based on what was known then. The award would fund replacement of the COS fine arts building and renovation of the old theater. The resulting two structure, new and old, would be coupled into a new Center for Performing and Creative Arts. 

At the Tuesday meeting, trustees learned that the paper evaluations will be completed in early June Then ,on-site inspections by third-party engineers begin that will peel back layers of the building for inspection of actual structural elements, as necessary.

With the scope of the renovation still in discovery stages, the college is waiting to apply for additional state funds. It is expected the state will provide some or all of those funds, according to Alma and Trover. However, completion of the project will be pushed back a year from the original time frame of late 2023. 

The administration appears to be rolling with the setback, a trait called upon several times during the eight-year period it took the college to win the state grant. 

In an interview last Thursday, COS vice-president of Administrative Services Darlene Melby said, “We’re going to get an independent assessment from a licensed engineer to dig into these latest observations. 

“First-blush has been to look at the drawings for the building. Now the third-party engineer (mandated by the state) will be on site with Alma and Trover. This is where the deep dive begins.” 

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When the assessments are completed to Alma and Trover’s satisfaction, Graham said the firm will provide three new options and cost estimates to the board: renovate the theater as planned, replace it, or do nothing – an option required by the state on applications for additional money.

“The game plan is to have the final report from our specialty consultants by June 7,” Graham said. “We’ll report back at the June board meeting.